Estate Planning for Children With Special Needs
Planning for a Child With Special Needs
Like so many other aspects of parenting a special needs child, there are unique challenges and considerations in setting up your estate plan. It may seem overwhelming, but the good news is that there are tried and true tools available to help you protect your child and your family long after you are gone. Below are some of the key issues that you should address with your estate planning lawyer.
Guardians and Conservators
Of course, as you would for any child, if your child is a minor you will want to name a guardian in your will in case something happens to you and the other parent. Once your special needs child becomes an adult, however, he or she may still need a guardian and/or a conservator. Chances are this is currently (or will be) you or your spouse, but it is important to think ahead about who will take your place so that the transition is as smooth as possible for your child. You can name a successor (including alternates) in your will- it is also a good idea to prepare that person for this responsibility with as much information as you can provide about your child. Even a simple letter with a list of medical providers, likes and dislikes, and what you want for your child can go a long way in helping the successor guardian make things easier for your child.
Financial Security for the Adult With Special Needs
Your special needs child most likely will have limitations on his or her ability to earn income throughout their lifetime. This means that, despite a desire to treat all of your children equally, you may have to allocate more resources for that child than for other children you have without special needs. In addition, even if your child is legally competent, he or she may not function at a high enough level to effectively manage the inheritance. You can plan ahead with a trust and an appropriate trustee to help manage the assets your child receives.
Protecting Your Child's Eligibility for Benefits
Many people with special needs are eligible for federal Supplemental Security Income, and also may qualify for other need-based federal, state, or local programs. These sources of income can be critically important for your child throughout his or her lifetime, and you don't want to jeopardize eligibility when your child suddenly receives assets in an inheritance. You can use a special needs trust to hold these assets. A special needs trust places limits on how money can be used, and if set up correctly the assets in that trust will not count in determination of continued eligibility for benefits.
Taking Care of the Whole Family
Thoughtful planning not only protects your special needs child, but can also help the rest of your family. The non-special needs siblings who are such great support may face life challenges of their own, and clarity about a guardian and an alternate can help minimize stress and conflict for them. If you are the parent who has been the most directly involved in managing things for your special needs child, a clear plan, complete information, and a vehicle to protect and manage assets can be of similar benefit to your spouse. And, finally, getting a plan in place will help you take one more thing to worry about out of your mind.